Regimental Museums on a ‘Cliff Edge’?

Following my last post on my trip to The Queen’s Royal Lancers & Notts Yeomanry Museum, I wanted to briefly draw attention to growing evidence of the threat to the UK’s regimental collections (outside London at any rate). This has been brought to our attention in an article today which reveals council culture budgets across the nation have been reduced by a third. The article by Ammar Kalia examines a large disparity between generous funding for London and relative poverty for the regions. It makes specific reference to a council very local to me apparently “removing all four curators at its museums in light of a £320,000 cut in its arts budget.” Elsewhere, a Museum Trust director declares “we hear about smaller cities and shire counties’ museums which are teetering on the brink of closing down if another round of cuts come through.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/may/07/cuts-england-museums-london-cliff-edge

The article considers museums generally but I’ve wondered in one of my museum reports before now just how cuts might impact upon the future of regimental collections

This year alone, it’s notable that already two potential visits to local regimental collections that I was considering to make have been stymied for an extended period due to ‘refurbishment’ – is it possible to suspect these temporary closures could even become permanent in such circumstances?

For the military history enthusiast, it’s now vitally important to continue appreciating and supporting such museums while they are still around to be enjoyed. As cuts to budgets bite, it’s sobering to consider that in some cases, my regimental museum reports may sadly become one of the few means then available to appreciate something of these wonderful collections.

The Queen’s Royal Lancers & Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum: Day Trip #18

This trip was actually a revisit to a museum which I’d last visited some 5 or 6 years ago, prior to this blog’s current incarnation and its series of museum reports. The Queen’s Royal Lancers & Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum is situated in Thoresby Park, deep in the picturesque Nottinghamshire countryside. Entry is completely free and its displays include the combined collections of:

  • The Queen’s Royal Lancers and their antecedents, namely;
    • 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers
    • 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers
    • 17th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers
    • 21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers
  • The Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry
  • The South Notts Hussars
Entrance to the museum in Thoresby Courtyard – with free entry!

On this visit, I was particularly keen to take a closer look at displays connected to the two local yeomanry regiments; the Sherwood Rangers and the South Nottinghamshire Hussars.


Nottinghamshire’s Yeomanry Regiments:

One of the first things that I encountered on entry was a cabinet which included two ancient yeomanry tunics. The first had white facings and was dark blue in colour with tightly packed rows of silver braiding covering the front of the tunic from base to shoulder – 26 rows of loops and buttons (count ’em). The garment was described as belonging to the Worksop Independent Troop, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, c. 1820.

Worksop Troop, Independent Yeomanry Cavalry tunic, c.1820.

All that silver braiding continues elsewhere on the tunic too, with some Austrian knot detailing on the cuffs and trefoils on the back and even around the sides.

Worksop Troop, Independent Yeomanry Cavalry tunic, c.1820.

The other tunic in the cabinet dated from 1815 and belonged to the Newark Troop, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry. This coat was red with white facings, having three rows of 18 white metal buttons but without all the lace seen on the Worksop cavalry tunic above.

The shoulder scales were made of metal links, in contrast to the Worksop example’s cord braid on the shoulders.

An illustration of the 1798 uniform of this troop was available for purchase in the shop both as a postcard and notebook cover. It shows men of the Newark Troop in front of their home town’s castle ruin and the River Trent. Although the style of the coat (17 years older than the one displayed) is very different, the scarlet colour remains the same. Facings and turban appear to be a shade of orange or gold.


The above image also shows the guidon which remarkably is still in existence and appeared high up on the wall of the museum. The Royal Standard (below) was “presented on the 14th July 1795 to the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry in the name of Thomas Webb Edge and Mrs Lumley Saville. The needlework was her own. The guidon was re-presented to the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry on the 4th May 1840…[and was] always carried by the Newark Troop”.

Some fine needlework there, Mrs Saville!

Tucked away in an alcove elsewhere in the museum, and partially covered by another display propped up against it, appeared to be a Victorian print of a cavalryman. It reminded me of my own collection of Henry Martens series of Yeomanry illustrations, so I took a closer look.

Frustratingly, my close up photos of the title and artist/engraver didn’t come out at all, so I’m left guessing on those details now but I know it wasn’t a Martens. What I do know is that the artwork was a local production, “Printed for the compilers by Stevenson and Co., Middle Pavement in Nottingham” in 1848. This was just a few years after the Fores’ Yeomanry Costumes by Henry Martens were published. The compositional style is very reminiscent of Martens.

Interestingly, the red shako shown in the print was said to be an exact copy of that worn by the Chasseurs d’Afrique. What makes Yeomanry uniforms particularly interesting to me is this freedom that individual regiments could enjoy to mimic and reference other styles, even colourful and ‘exotic’ foreign ones such as this.

Not on display, but the website https://www.britishempire.co.uk has this shako as matching that in the illustration, minus absent cord lines and plume. The missing cord lines have left their mark.

As with my Fores’ prints, this one comes with a dedication; “To Lieut. Colonel Holden, the officers, non comm’nd officers & privates of the Nottinghamshire Cavalry.” A little research informs me that the scarlet shako was adopted in 1847, just one year before the painting was published. The falling plume was black and there are yellow lines of cord on the shako depicted. The hussar uniform is blue, although it appears as a kind of light grey in the faded print. The pouch belt is black and the scabbard suggests a heavy cavalryman’s straight sword rather than a hussar’s curved sabre.

In the same display case as the tunics was this above helmet described as a “Notts Yeomanry Cavalry helmet c. 1837, probably manufactured for the regiment.” This regiment eventually became the Sherwood Rangers. It’s in terrific condition and appears to be made of ‘japanned’ (heavy black lacquered) leather. The horsehair plume is red and there are ventilation bars in the sides of the crest. Under the royal coat of arms gilt badge there is brass bar engraved with the title “Notts Yeomanry Cavalry”. A beautiful object!

The above 1845 shako badge displays the name of the South Notts Yeomanry Cavalry, forerunner to the South Notts Hussars. The hugely informative British Empire blog also has an image of the regiment’s shako with this sunburst design badge in place.

The uniforms shown above were unlabelled. Clearly not lancers, they look to be from the local yeomanry of the late 18th century and being navy must belong to the South Notts Hussars (the Sherwood Rangers wore a striking green hussar uniform). The five braiding loops tunic appears to be Mess Dress with a gold and red waistcoat underneath.

Richard Simkin’s illustration of Nottinghamshire’s two yeomanry regiments grouped together in 1908 as the 17th Yeomanry Brigade.

Incidentally, I have lying around a 54mm metal figure of the South Notts Hussars awaiting some paint, although a different order of dress, it’s five braiding loops closely matching the Simkin illustration seen above. Perhaps sometime soon might be a good time to make a start on it?


The 17th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Lancers:

The regular lancer regiments in the museum had a varied and dramatic history. The 17th Lancers being particularly well-known for their part in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. I think that they possibly have the most recognisable cap badge in the British Army; the macabre skull and crossbones, sometimes seen with the legend “Or Glory”. Seen on their 1815 Light Dragoon shako, it reminds me much of the headgear of the famous Prussian ‘Death’s Head’ Hussars, although they would have looked at the time more like my 13th Light Dragoon figures from 2015.

Their motto ‘Death or Glory’ was a reference to General Wolfe who fell mortally wounded at Quebec, 1759. I still have a “Death or Glory Boys” coaster taken from a visit I must have made to the 17th Lancers museum as a small child when it was still based in Belvoir Castle – looking pretty good after all these years!

More headdress of the 17th was on display, including one which saw use during the famous charge itself:

There is some controversy surrounding which bugle actually sounded the Charge of the Light Brigade, but the one on display in this museum has a very strong claim. The hole smashed through the end was caused by a Cossack piercing it with a lance, attempting (and failing) to pick it up off the ground and to take away as a trophy. An astonishing object in many ways.

An audio recording of a surviving trumpeter who was present in the charge was played on loop in the museum and you can hear it online, Trumpeter
Kenneth Landfried blowing on a Waterloo bugle recorded on wax cylinder in 1890:-

Below: uniforms of the 17th through the ages on display:

  • a replica of the attractive light blue uniform worn in the American War of Independence;
  • an officer’s service uniform from the Zulu War (other ranks had white crossbelts without the silver pickers and plate);
  • a scarlet uniform from the time of George IV, a monarch determined to see all of his cavalry regiments wear red!

The 21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers:

A neat display dedicated to the 21st Lancers concentrated mostly on their famous charge at the battle of Omdurman. This is unsurprising given their relative newness, being formed in 1858 for the East India Company and not brought within the British army until 1862. Three regiments had previously been designated the 21st Regiment.

Being dogged by its lack of battle honours and experience (“thou shalt not kill” was unkindly suggested as the regimental motto), its reckless charge at the Dervish tribesman in 1898 seemed to some to be motivated by a need to restore some honour. Notably attaching himself to this wild charge was a young Winston Churchill of the 4th Hussars.

The Charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. Photograph: National Museums Liverpool, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24851971

As a reference to its Indian origins when it was part of the EIC’s Bengal cavalry, the 21st Lancers wore French Grey facings, an example of which could be seen clearly in this late 19th Century Full Dress uniform.


The 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers:

The 16th Lancers were known as ‘The Scarlet Lancers” after successfully petitioning to retain the existing scarlet coatee when in 1840 it was ordered that all the Light Cavalry should revert back to the blue uniforms. An example of their unique scarlet lancer coat can be seen below.

The 16th Lancers famous action at the Battle of Aliwal in the Anglo-Sikh Wars was given due prominence. At this action, the regiment charged a Sikh force many times its own size, dispersed their cavalry and then broke the Sikh infantry squares, taking many casualties in the process but doing much to secure outright victory.


The 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers:

Concluding this report, this magnificent copper kettle drum below was described as being ‘used by the 5th Royal Irish Lancers’. Being that it appeared in a cabinet dedicated to the 18th century, I presume that this instrument is an antique belonging to the original regiment’s guise as the 5th Dragoons.

Notably, the 5th Regiment of Dragoons was disgraced after being infiltrated by Irish rebels during 1798. It was erased from the army list, with nothing existing for many years between the 4th and 6th cavalry regiments. This mark of disgrace lasted until it was reformed as lancers in 1858. An excellent example of the regiment’s pre-1798 uniform was on display; this lovely c.1745 mitre cap and c.1770 jacket of the 5th Royal Dragoons (note the links on the shoulders very similar to the Newark Troop’s example earlier).

The interesting display included a garment of their adversaries, Sudanese jibbahs, coats made of white cotton with additional patches sewn on.


With the exception of a thriving cafe, Thorseby courtyard seemed largely deserted of shops when I visited, so I wonder if the museum would do better in a much more accessible location, particularly so for those without a car. For those who are able to visit, with free entry and a rich collection of history to be found in nicely presented premises, the Queen’s Royal Lancers & Nottinghamshire Yeomanry museum is highly recommended!

17th Light Dragoons in England c.1800. From a series of drawings by George Salisbury (1795-1848), a former musician serving for 20 years in the regiments. This and a number of other of Salisbury’s paintings of the 17th were available as postcards from the museum shop.

Northampton’s Abington Park Museum: Day Trip #16

I fulfilled a long-standing intention to visit a military collection which, geographically, isn’t all that far away from me but which nonetheless I’d been unable to get to. It is a military collection housed within the Abington Park Museum in Northampton. Entry is free for visitors, entry times being restricted to afternoons on 4 days a week. It brings together collections relating to:

  • The Northamptonshire Regiment and its preceding regiments;
    • 48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot,
    • 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot,
  • The Northamptonshire Yeomanry, militia and local volunteer units.

In 1970, the Northamptonshire Regiment collection was moved to Abington Park Museum having been previously based at various barracks in and around Northampton.

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I have to now admit that in an act of total incompetence I forgot to put a memory card into my digital camera before leaving! All of which meant relying mostly upon my phone’s camera, which is far from the best device for taking decent images. Furthermore, I then later located my missing memory card in my trouser pocket on returning home. Early senility or stupidity?! Nonetheless, I managed to photograph some interesting exhibits, particularly ones relating to that great personal interest of mine – the yeomanry, which I will mostly concentrate on for the purposes of this post.

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The Northamptonshire Yeomanry

On locating the military collection in the building, I was soon greeted by the sight of the distinctive uniform of the early Northamptonshire Yeomanry which was first formed in 1794. An example of their ancient Tarleton helmet was on display, looking pretty good for its age (over 200 years old), save for the threadbare comb which had retained a few tufts of its former glory, much like the balding pate of a very old man. The turban was a bright green (to match the uniform’s jacket) with brass chains holding it in place. The words “Northampton” and “Yeomanry” appeared in brass plaques on either side of the crest.

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The jacket was green with buff facings. On the shoulders were some distinctive shoulder scales, of a type which I’d previously modelled for the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum figures a couple of years back.

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It’s a very distinctive colour (akin to the Norfolk Rangers I mentioned recently) and a pleasing design, which was of course entirely the point, it being important that the Northamptonshire Yeomanry looked impressive. A framed contemporary illustration accompanied the display, not very expertly reproduced below;

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Blurry phone camera… A print of a Northants yeomen, c.1790s.

Already in my possession prior to the visit was a book on the Northamptonshire Yeomanry; “Yeomen of England” by Ken Tout. It is a warm and lively account of the regiment told by one of its former soldiers. In it, Mr Tout recounts how “one great attraction in [yeomanry] recruitment was the colourful, even gaudy design of the uniform of a troop or a regiment, and poets were already at work writing patriotic songs.” One such early song in 1794 praises the uniform of the newly formed Brackley Troop, part of the NY;

British Yeomen, valiant Yeomen, brave Yeomen for ever
Green coats faced with black and in each hat a feather
The waistcoats are buff and their trousers are leather
With broadswords and pistols and hearts without fear
Great Jove must be pleased when these Yeomen appear

They were obviously proud of their green uniforms, although I should have thought that ‘sabres’ would have a better substitute for the word ‘broadswords’ which would have been impractical to wield on a horse! There was no sign of the feather mentioned in the lyrics but a plume was commonly used with Tarleton helmets so it may have simply gone the way of the balding fur crest.

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For the great smartness of their first green uniform, the regiment originally had to thank the affluent Earl Spencer whose influence with the King enabled him to secure the use of the King’s emblem, white horse of Hanover, one of only 4 regiments to be so honoured.

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Embroidered badge of the Northants Yeomanry with white horse emblem.

There was another uniform on display which I initially took to being an Northamptonshire Regiment infantry officer from the early half of the 19th century. I couldn’t spot an explanatory label and in my limited time in the museum I didn’t go back to confirm. However, Ken Tout’s book suggests that this uniform would have been similar to the mid-19th century Northamptonshire Yeomanry’s uniform. In 1844, the regiment escorted Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Tout describes their dress;

“It was an opportunity for the yeomen to don their finery. immaculate scarlet tunics with dark blue facing. gold epaulettes and plentiful gold lace, and the riders’ heights enhanced by their bell-top shakos.”

On my hurried exit from the museum, I noticed that the final room of the collection housed a wonderful display of model soldiers from the local Northants Military Modelling Club. There were lots of terrific models on display, mostly I’d say 54mm scale, of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry through the ages both mounted and dismounted. One of these looked much like the above Ken Tout description of the Victorian escort, though my blurry phone camera ran out of storage and I ran out of time before I could attempt a photo. Prior to that, I did however discover a curious object stuck randomly underneath a table – it was a section of what appear to be bathroom tiles which had carefully been removed intact. On the times, illustrations of Northants yeomen through the ages on them! I presume some individual had hand-painted them. I think they’re terrific, one of those nice eccentric discoveries that make visiting a museum so enjoyable.

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Now that’s my kind of bathroom design, (although possibly not my wife’s)! The ‘scarlet tunic’ mentioned in Tout’s book seems to be shown above (right on bottom row). Curse my blurry camera as the accompanying written descriptions which would have confirmed all aren’t readable. The green uniform seen earlier seems to be top right and the 1910-era version mounted in the middle. If we’re to assume they’re all Northamptonshire Yeomen, then it’s possible they also adopted an extravagant hussar style uniform, seen top left. If so, I assume this was approximately from some time between the 1850s up to 1873 (the year of temporary disbandment).

Tout’s excellent account also describes in detail the nature of the protective formation required by the Northamptonshire Yeomanry to guard the royal carriage from any threat. The fine and glittering sight of the scarlet-coated procession was commemorated in some spirited poetry by a local 17-year old girl, reproduced in the book:-

On Market Hill our great Yeomanry stood
To guard Queen Victoria to Weedon in the Wood
While through the High Street to Ket’ring she rides
With a thousand spectators arrayed on both sides

The Yeomanry in the Northamptonshire existed until the final troop (The Royal Kettering) was disbanded in 1873. As the Anglo-Boer War came to a conclusion, Northamptonshire, which had been without a Yeomanry regiment ever since, had a new regiment established, the Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry.

The Full Dress uniform was in the style of Dragoons and is described in “Yeomen of England” by Tout as being;

“…dark blue, with light blue facings and a white metal helmet with a light-blue and white plume. “

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The uniform fitting that description was displayed in the collection (see above). It is a 1910 Full Dress tunic and Field Service cap belonging to the then commander of the regiment, Col. H Wickham. The PAOY website has some information on the Service Dress uniform of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry:

The first [Service Dress] uniform of the new regiment was of regulation drab, or khaki, with pale blue collar, cuffs and piping up back, sleeves and down the front of the jacket. Shoulder chains with brass lettering NIY. The Regimental badge, as worn on the collar, side-cap, peaked cap etc., was the “galloping white horse”: the badge used as the centre piece of Maltese Cross on the Shakos of the 1830-45 period.

The emblem of that Hanoverian horse could be seen clearly on the two later NY uniforms were also on display including this below. It is also prominent on the collar of this corporal of the NY. This tunic dates from 1902-1908 and was displayed alongside a pillbox cap. Note the shoulder chains on blue cloth backing.

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Again, the Hanover horse appears – on the Full Dress helmet in a dramatic sunburst design…

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…and finally on the front of the Field Service cap, below:

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Most pleasing to me about this dragoon-style uniform and helmet was the attractive and unusual colour of the facings. Referred to by Tout and the PAOY website as being ‘light-blue’, this is described as being “Cornflower Blue” according to the “The Yeomanry Force at the 1911 Coronation” authors Robert J Smith and Ronald G Harris. Not only does it appear on the sleeves and collar of the tunic, but it can also be seen on both the cap and the helmet. The cap has this colour piped around the brim and also in a band around the middle. Other ranks apparently just had the band without the piping.

Two depictions of the Northamptonshire Yeomanry around the time of the coronation by R.J. Marrion and E.A. Campbell.

The helmet has a falling white over cornflower blue plume on a silver helmet, as can be seen below:

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Full Dress helmets: Other Ranks (left) and Officers (right)

On the eight-pointed star, the garter inscription surrounding the Hanoverian horse says “Northamptonshire Imperial Yeomanry”, which was the name of the regiment on it’s 1902 reincarnation. In 1907, it became simply known as the “Northamptonshire Yeomanry” following the Haldane reforms.

The difference between the two examples of helmets relating to the officers and ranks seems remarkably slight. The plumes have been tied back to better reveal helmet details.

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Below: the “Cornflower Blue” is evident on the collars and cuffs as well as the plumes:

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Below: close up on the arrow pickers and chain on the officers pouch belt. Note the horse motif appears on the buttons as well.

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The most complete collection of NY uniforms came unexpectedly towards the end of the collection. I’ve mentioned in the final room was a sizeable collection of mostly 54mm scale models of the regiment in a wide variety of guises. Close up pictures weren’t really possible but I managed to take a couple of a figure I recognised as already being in my collection, ready to paint. I suppose it highly likely that I’ll try and reproduce the 1910 NY Full Dress using my own figure to match the one below!

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Apologies for blurry image – see earlier comments!

The Militia:

I was surprised to learn recently that I have a personal connection with the Northamptonshire Militia going back to a relative who served sometime around the 1770s. This chap had the memorable surname Aldwincle (no, I don’t share this unusual surname) and he would have likely been compelled to serve in the force by ballot. This means of selection was not unsurprisingly often deeply unpopular with the mostly reluctant working class men who served in the Militia’s ranks, and so it may have been with Great, Great, Great Great Grandad Aldwincle.

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Thomas Rowlandson’s “Review of the Northamptonshire Militia at Brackley”, 1807. From Wikimedia Commons.

It was particularly pleasing to see some items relating to the same period and regiment in which my ancestor served. The drum below was presented to the Northamptonshire Militia by Lord Viscount Althorp on the 1st September 1779. So, I feel a sense of connection as it is entirely feasible that my relative would have known and indeed heard this drum. He would also have quite probably having been in attendance during its presentation to the regiment on that day.

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Northamptonshire Militia Drum dating from 1779.

Another, larger, militia drum was also on display. This bass drum was presented to the regiment while it was on service in Dublin in 1854, probably taking on duties that other regular infantry would have been doing were they not off serving in the Crimean War. It’s a beautiful object, richly decorated and emblazoned with not only the name of the regiment but also of the name of the drum’s benefactor, the regiment’s own Lt-Colonel Lord Burghley.

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With rich colonels such as Lord Burghley, one might expect militia officers to display some ostentation and these 1855 shoulder epaulettes provide some evidence of that. There’s a hunting horn symbol in the wreath, a sign of light infantry.

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The Volunteer Corps:

The Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers were represented by a grey uniform of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. The name dates it from being after the 1881 Childers Reforms which merged the existing 48th and 58th line regiments into a single Northamptonshire Regiment, also attaching the local volunteer corps and militia as additional battalions.

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With its grey uniform and red piping, and Home Service Pattern helmet, it looks much like the Cheshire Greys Rifle Volunteers that I modelled in 28mm scale last year.

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Finally, it was interesting to see displayed a cymbal which had been presented in 1876 to the band of the 2nd Northamptonshire Rifle Volunteers, demonstrating that military bands could be as much a feature of the Rifle Volunteers as any other force in the British Army.

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A Cymbal from the Rifle Volunteers

And very briefly, The Regulars!
Finally, although my greatest interest these days is on the volunteers, a very brief  word on the Regulars. The Northamptonshire Regiment was formed out of the amalgamation of two pre-existing line regiments, the 48th and 58th regiments. It served in a number of theatres including New Zealand, a number of exhibits from which were displayed. There were some interesting watercolours and artworks around the walls, although the artists themselves seemed to be largely unknown.

Some uniforms of a type similar to those depicted above could be found around the museum.

They were lots of very interesting items on display, but some of my favourites included some extravagant 1832 epaulettes from an officer of the 58th Foot and a Pickelhaube and bugle, trophies from the Great War, Pickelhaube war booty always being a popular choice for many British regiments it seems.

Footnote:

Being a collection housed as a part of a wider museum, the Northamptonshire Regimental Collection inevitably suffers from the lack of focus that that entails. To enter into the collection, for example, I walked past a room inexplicably containing a large painting and am Egyptian sarcophagus! When compared to some other more dedicated military museums, the Northants collection felt a little lost and unloved.

At the time of writing, the Northamptonshire County Council has been in the news recently for being the first (of many?) to go effectively bankrupt. In such circumstances, with public services being pared down to a statutory minimum, culture and the arts could suffer greatly in favour of more immediately essential services. The fate of the Regimental Collection of Northampton in such circumstances remains to be seen.

Horsemen at Holkham Hall: Day Trip #15

A week’s holiday away with the family means a break from the hobby for a while. Sometimes. The Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry collection was just down the coast from where we were staying but, having visited last year, I declined a revisit and stuck to spending time with the family. When we decided to visit the magnificent Holkham Hall and its enormous gardens however, it provided me with an opportunity for some military history…

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Holkham Hall on the day of my visit

Prior to my trip to the Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry collection last year in the Muckleburgh Collection, I did a little background reading. One of the many early incarnations of Yeomanry from Norfolk mentioned in my book was the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry. I seemed to recall that the troop’s standard was on display within the hall, so I kept an eye out for it as we toured around. I’m glad to say that I did indeed find it although, I’ve since been unable to find any reference to it being at the hall whatsoever, so how I knew I simply have no idea!

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The opulent entrance at Holkham Hall.

Norfolk Yeomanry was raised, disbanded and re-raised a number of times between 1782 and 1849. At any one time it consisted of a wide range of troops from all across the county, often equipped and officered by wealthy local landowners at their own expense. The coastal district of Holkham in North Norfolk was no different and the area was dominated by the very grand Holkham Hall. The man who raised Holkham’s first yeomanry force was the hall’s owner Thomas William Coke. One of his portraits was up on the wall in the Manuscript Library.

Reinagle, Ramsay Richard, 1775-1862; Thomas Coke (1752-1842), 1st Earl of Leicester
Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, by Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775–1862).

Underneath this portrait was a seemingly insignificant little banner but I recognised it immediately as being an early yeomanry standard. The HYC initials confirmed it; Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry.

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Holkham Hall’s Manuscript Library with the yeomanry standard. Up on the wall are portraits of Thomas Coke surrounded by (I believe) his three daughters, and also his first wife, Jane (below right).

The Yeomanry standard was hung at eye level in the small Manuscript Library room surrounded by many priceless and ancient books. The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force series on the Norfolk Yeomanry contains a monochrome photo of the standard and describes it in the following way: —

“…A standard of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry of 1798 carries the same central device, the three turreted castle on a shield with crown above and the letters H and Y left and right of shield and C below, a panel in each of the four corners.”

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The 3-turreted castle is a feature on the coat of arms of Norwich, the principal town of Norfolk. The four corners contain two galloping horses and two ostriches with horseshoes held in their beaks (the ostrich being an emblem used within the Coke family coat of arms). The black and white photo looks very similar although notably the horses are reversed in their direction. The black and white photo might simply be the rear view but the fringe on the base of the standard has come away in my photo. So, this might also be a different standard altogether to my photo. I approached the helpful guide in the room to find out more and he suggested to me that the standard may well not be the original version at all but instead a slightly ‘newer’ version created in the 1820s, towards the end of the regiment’s existence.

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HYC: The standard of the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry

In my chat with the knowledgeable guide, he also suggested to me that Mr Coke had raised the yeomanry troop partly because other local landowners suspected that he harboured sympathies with the republican revolutionaries of France! This is perhaps surprising for a man with so much wealth, land and influence. Raising a troop of yeomanry could have been a method therefore to forestall any suspicious rumours over his loyalty to the king, and of course did his prestige as a rich landowner no harm at all. Records seem to support the guide’s suggestion that Coke did indeed feel some pressing need to ingratiate himself with the King. In a letter to the Prince of Wales, Coke writes:

”Feeling eager to show my zeal in defence of my King and Country at this alarming crisis… I think the best service I can render is by raising a Squadron of Horse, of the most respectable Yeomanry in this neighbourhood… of which I hope your Royal Highness will have the opportunity of judging by honouring Holkham with your presence in the autumn.” Letter from Thomas William Coke to the Prince of Wales. May 1798. From “Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry” 1908.

Coke was appointed to the rank of Major Commandant of the HYC on the 19th July 1798. The local paper recorded the moment that the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry’s standard was first bestowed upon the new troop. The Mercury recorded that, on October 6th, 1798:

“The two troops of Holkham volunteer cavalry, commanded by Major Coke, received their standard from the hands of Mrs. Coke. At eleven in the morning the troops, proceeded to the chapel, where the standard was consecrated by the Rev Henry Crowe, sen.

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The Chapel within Holkham Hall where the standard was consecrated.

The account continues:

At twelve o’clock the troops were drawn up on the South lawn, within a short distance of the house, when with some ceremony, the standard was given into the hands of Captain Edmund Rolfe. After the ceremony, the troops were entertained by their commanding officer, Major Coke, in Holkham House.” From Records of the NYC”.

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South side of Holkham Hall where Captain Rolfe finally received the Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry standard from the hands of Mrs Jane Coke.

Mrs Coke was a committed abolitionist and keen supporter of social welfare. Her portrait also appears up on the wall in library alongside her husband, her face now seemingly looking towards the standard that she’d bestowed upon the regiment just two years before her untimely death.

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On the right, Mrs Jane Coke (nee Dutton) looks across towards the standard that she bestowed in October 1798.

In 1798, tally returns show the HYC numbering 100 men, double the number that many other corps in Norfolk at the time had raised. Consequently, as suggested above, it was split into two troops. The Holkham Troop’s officers consisted of;

  • Major Commandant Thomas William Coke
  • Captain Edmund Rolfe
  • Lieuts. George Hogg and Martin Folkes-Riston
  • Cornets Jason Gardner-Bloom and John Ward

I am unsure as to the uniform details of the Holkham Yeomanry. The automated scanned text of Thomas Coke’s letter to the Prince of Wales contained within the “Records of the Norfolk Yeomanry Cavalry” is garbled: ” …I have to request your Royal Highnesses permission that we may wear the colours of ye loth for our uniform”. Yellow, perhaps? There is in existence an engraved chart entitled “A view of the volunteer army of Great Britain in the year 1806” which listed the colours of all the yeomanry forces but unfortunately omits the Holkham Troop! With the notable exception of the Norfolk Rangers who wore green jackets, the majority of Norfolk’s yeomanry at this time wore red coats, facings which were mostly black and breeches predominantly white or blue. All wore Tarleton helmets. So perhaps we can assume that the Holkham Yeomanry probably looked very similar.

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Jacket of the Clackhouse Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry

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John Harvey, Mayor of Norwich in the 1792 uniform of the Norwich Light Horse Volunteers.

The Peace of Amiens in 1802 led to the disbandment of the yeomanry but this was almost immediately followed by a re-raising of all the cavalry in 1803, when Britain once more declared war on France. Lord Townsend of Fakenham grouped the many disparate corps of yeomanry existing across Norfolk into three regiments to improve efficiency. The Holkham Yeomanry Cavalry troop were attached to the 1st Regiment alongside the Norfolk Rangers, the Lynn & Freebridge, Smithdon & Brothercross, and the Marshland Troops. The newly combined 1st Regiment then numbered 350 in total. Some years later, the entire 1st Regiment was to adopt the Norfolk Rangers green uniform.

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Marquess Townshend in the uniform of the Norfolk Rangers, 1799.

Of course, although the threat was very real and persisted for years, Napoleon never did invade and the yeomanry were never called upon to fight him. However, civil disturbances kept many yeomanry forces busy. Indeed on the 16th March 1815, months before the battle of Waterloo, the Holkham Yeomanry’s own commander was subject to an attack by an angry mob:

“Thomas Coke of Holkham was present at a show of prize cattle in Norwich when… a number of persons, acting upon the assumption that he was a supporter of the Corn Bill, proceeded to treat him in a very rough and violent manner…the mob hurled a volley of stones and brickbats at Mr. Coke and friends.” From ‘Records of the NYC’.

It seems that he was besieged in a public house and only barely managed to escape. The riot was quelled by the Brunswick Hussars, then stationed in Norwich, under the  command of a Lieut-Col. Von Tempsky. Disparity of wealth between rich and poor was certainly extreme at the time, yet ironically it appears that Coke was one of the more socially conscious of landlords.

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Officer of the Norfolk Rangers in an illustration by RJ Marrion.

Coke’s troop of cavalry, the Holkham Yeomanry, were finally disbanded for good in 1828. Various incarnations of mounted yeomanry from within the county continued to arise intermittently, however, and there were ongoing ties with Holkham Hall. Indeed, nearly 20 years later, on May 22nd, 1847, the Norfolk Chronicle reported on “Prince Albert’s Own Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry” drilling on the grounds of Coke’s Holkham estate:

“The town of Wells is at this time very gay, being honoured by a visit from the gentlemen comprising Prince Albert’s Own corps of Yeomanry cavalry. They entered the town on Saturday last, under the command of Major Loftus, and the lovers of music are day by day enchanted by their splendid brass band… Their practising ground is on the North lawn in Holkham Park.” From ‘Records of the NYC’.

The same newspaper later also documented the activities of this yeomanry regiment at Holkham Hall which is worth quoting at length to provide an overview of yeomanry duties and occupations during camp:

“We mentioned in our last week’s paper, the arrival at Wells, of the 300 Prince Albert’s own corps of Norfolk Yeomanry cavalry, for eight days permanent duty, on Saturday the 15th inst.

”On Monday the 17th, the three squadrons mustered for exercise and marched to Holkham Park, permission having been granted to Major Loftus by the Earl of Leicester, to make any use of the Park for exercise, likewise the stables at the Hall for the accommodation of the horses during his sojourn at Wells, with the corps under his command. At two o’clock the corps were dismounted, and at this period, the Major received a most polite invitation for himself and his brother officers to luncheon at the Hall…

“On Tuesday, at ten o’clock, the corps again marched to the Park, and after going through various evolutions, until 2 p.m. dismounted. The officers received an invitation to the Hall to luncheon, a marquee being erected in the Park for the accommodation of the men, in which refreshments were provided, and at three o’clock they returned to town…

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1843 dragoon helmet of the Prince Albert’s Own Yeomanry Cavalry.

” At an early hour on Wednesday morning, the corps assembled in the Park at Holkham… Precisely at half past five the Earl arrived accompanied by the Hon. and Rev. Thomas Keppel, and were received with all military honours. At eight o’clock the Lord-Lieutenant accompanied by Major Loftus, and the officers proceeded to the concert room which was crowded to excess, and it is but justice to state that owing to the excellent arrangements made by Mr Jonas Wright, the band master, the company assembled enjoyed a musical treat, not often met with in a provincial
town.

“On Thursday morning there was a short foot parade, with carbines and side arms, and at twelve o’clock, the officers, non-commissioned officers and several of the private members proceeded to the Park for the purpose of playing a game of cricket with the Earl of Leicester. At four o’clock the officers and players sat down to a most sumptuous entertainment given by the noble Earl, at which every delicacy of the season was provided.” Quoted in Records of the NYC’.

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Napoleonic-era Holkham Yeomanry muskets on display in the local Victoria Inn, which is still owned by the Coke family.

Thomas Coke, having been created 1st Earl of Leicester in 1837, after 20 years a widower shocked all by marrying 18-year old Anne Keppel at the somewhat advanced age of 68(!). They had a son who inherited the title. Thomas Coke died at the age of 88 in 1842. His body was returned to Norfolk from Derbyshire where he’d been out on a visit and on the final leg of the coffin’s journey there were yeomen in attendance.

After the disbandment of the Norfolk Yeomanry in 1849, there were still instances of volunteer cavalry parading at Holkham Hall. In 1861;

“A body of mounted volunteers, the Norwich Mounted Volunteers, took part in the great review of the whole of the volunteers of the county, on Sept 12, 1861, which was held at Holkham Park. Their uniform consists of a scarlet tunic with blue facings, white cross belt, white breeches, and Napoleon boots, the head-dress is a busby with blue bag; the forage cap is blue trimmed with white. ” Norfolk Chronicle, 1861. Quoted in “Records of the NYC”.

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Norfolk Light Horse Volunteer, c. 1864. By 1863 the busby described had become a dragoon helmet as shown.

It wasn’t until the Anglo-Boer War that the Norfolk Yeomanry was re-raised once again now under the patronage of the King himself. These were men intended to fight out on the South African veldt as part of the Imperial Yeomanry force. The very first parade of the “King’s Own Regiment of Norfolk Imperial Yeomanry” took place at Holkham Hall, on September 10th, 1901. Still awaiting their uniforms, the regiment paraded by squadrons in plain clothes on the cricket ground. On the day of my visit, a cricket match was in progress, the sport still being played right in front of the hall where Norfolk yeomen had once paraded, rode and manoeuvred so often many years ago.

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Cricket match taking place on the north side of the hall; scene of yeomanry drill, parades, band concerts and even sometimes yeomanry cricket from the past!

Further on in the hall, I also discovered a small display featuring men of Holkham Hall who had fought in the World War and were recorded on the Roll of Honour or the war memorial which lies within the grounds. The Roll of Honour included two estate workers who respectively served with yeomanry regiments; the Westminster Dragoons and City of London Roughriders. There was also one from the Norfolk Yeomanry, a Walter Hughe. World War 1 had ensured that a Holkham man finally did see action serving with the county’s yeomanry.

Finally. below are some scenes of the Norfolk Yeomanry at Holkham Hall during their Summer Camp in 1911. Equestrian events such as tent-pegging can be seen and the men are watering their horses in Holkham Hall’s lake. The regiment’s C Squadron had a drill station in nearby Wells-Next-The-Sea.

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Norfolk Yeomanry Summer Camp Holkham Hall 1911 (2)

National Army Museum: Day Trip #14

Finding myself on a rare trip to London with my wife, I somehow persuaded her that a short detour to the nearby National Army Museum might be in order and she graciously agreed. The National Army Museum is situated right next the Royal Hospital in Chelsea and entry to the museum is entirely free. It was founded in 1960 “for the purpose of collecting, preserving and exhibiting objects and records relating to the Land Forces of the British Crown”.

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I think I must have last visited when I was about 14 years old for a seminar organised by the Victorian Military Society; so, ah, that’s a few decades ago now. It has changed beyond recognition since being reopened recently after a 3-year, £24 million redevelopment. A press release had this to say about the redesign:

Following an extensive review of the existing National Army Museum brand, the museum set out to transform perceptions of a dark and austere military museum to a modern, bright, engaging and relevant space fit for the 21st century.

As someone with a long-standing interest in military history, I must confess that I’m never happier than in a “dark and austere military museum”! Hearing of its transformation therefore into a “relevant space” concerned me a little. Would it be relevant to me? The press release continued:

Working with creative agencies … the new National Army Museum brand is reflected in the physical museum, its website and has influenced designers across the project in every aspect, from permanent gallery displays and public spaces, to interior design and signage.

We strive to talk about our subject in ways that are at once insightful, sharing, conversational, stimulating and above all real and relevant. We want to inspire conversations, not just questions and answers, and support genuine and meaningful encounters with our story for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The new brand encapsulates this position.

OK. I got to admit that I don’t really go in for all this ‘branding’ speak. A “genuine and meaningful encounter” for me is what happens when I see a military exhibit. What’s “relevant” probably depends more on the individual visitor and is difficult for a curator to anticipate. As for what’s “real” – there’s surely nothing more real than an historical artefact; interactive screens, vinyl wall displays and branding designs are ultimately mere simulacrum. So, though I appreciated the desire for the NAM to engage with as wide a portion of the general public as possible, I was visiting with some concerns as to how engaging I personally would find it.

The new National Army Museum is split over its floors into separate galleries respectively titled “Soldier”, “Battle”, “Army”, “Society” and “Insight”. It sounded all a little bit vague to me and, pressed for time, didn’t assist me to identify where I might quickly find topics that I’m most interested in. Nevertheless, I suppose it’s an imaginative attempt to introduce the topic to the more general visitor who might not have such preferences.

Inside, the museum certainly looks impressive. It’s open and inviting, strikingly fresh, modern and clean.

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Plenty of open floor space – a NAM gallery.

Perhaps it’s a trifle too clean? There are lots of open space which, I couldn’t help but feel could have been used to display more exhibits! Thankfully, there are still plenty of exhibits to be found for a military history nerd like me to enjoy. So, I’m going to review some of the best.

The “Soldier Gallery” contained about a dozen uniforms worn by manikins in glass cases. The arrangement was seemingly random although, with such a wide subject, perhaps such indiscriminate juxtapositions are as good an approach as any. I’d have liked to have seen more of them, nonetheless!  Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin robes were on display as were the below examples of the superbly ornate 10th (Prince of Wales Own) Light Dragoons (Hussars) and the very smart 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers (also known as Skinner’s Horse), a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army.

I was particularly pleased to see an example of the striking First Aid Nursing Yeomanry uniform on display. Having discussed Serbian women’s involvement in WWI and having taken part in FEMbruary earlier this year, female involvement in warfare is a topic that has cropped up a number of times on Suburban Militarism.

The pouch on the rear of the uniform states “FAYC”, referring to them being yeomanry cavalry, i.e. they were expected to ride horses. Any hard riding would have been severely hampered by the presence of that long navy skirt. No doubt many in the FAYC would have rather worn far more practical riding breeches. The very fine scarlet uniform closely resembles the kind of smart Full Dress uniform in use by some of the male yeomanry of the time. For Service Dress, the men were already moving on to the more practical khaki – displayed alongside was the excellent Anglo-Boer War-era Imperial Yeomanry uniform.  The style and colour of the FAYC uniform was a sign that women were not at all expected to get involved in the front line of battle. My post on the Female Soldiers of Serbia gives some indication of how this restrictive expectation was thwarted by many brave women in reality.

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A display of artefacts of volunteer soldiering

There was a nice display case (above) of some exhibits which, unfortunately, were not labelled for identification. The interactive screens nearby may well have been able to tell me more but a lack of time moved me on and so I was left to speculate what the peculiar white japanned dragoon helmet was (some yeomanry musician’s helmet?), or the age and regiment of the light-blue sergeant’s coatee of some light cavalry.

I was pleased to see some of the colourful and unusual dress from British empire forces from overseas. A uniform of a West Indian regiment was treat to see, it’s style modelled on the renowned Zouaves of the French army, apparently on the instruction of Queen Victoria herself. A fascinating account of the history of the West India Regiments from its iniquitous slavery beginnings through to 1927, “Slaves in Red Coats“, can be found on the NAM website. Further exploring British army uniforms across the globe was the above West African Frontier Force uniform. Like the West Indian version, this Lance Corporal of the Nigeria Regiment also sports a Zouave-style jacket and red fez but without the white turban wound about it.

Waterloo, Wellington and Napoleon loomed large in the displays in the Battle Gallery. It was a great experience to stand so close to exhibits such as Wellington’s cloak and General Picton’s top hat from the battle.

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With apologies for the blurry image – Lieutenant-General Picton’s top hat.

Looking at that top hat, I was reminded of the scene in the epic film “Waterloo” by Dino De Laurentiis where Lt-General Picton is shot and killed leading his troops forward in a scene brilliantly portrayed by Jack Hawkins. The sight of a gentlemanly top hat and umbrella in the midst of a brutal battle was memorably incongruous. In the film, a gruff Hawkins cries to his men “On! you drunken rascals, you whore’s melts, you thieves, you blackguards!” But his tirade is halted as the top hat is suddenly scarred by shot, the only sign that Picton himself has been hit also. The hat is last seen tumbling to the ground alongside it’s owner on the Belgian hillside, swallowed up and lost in the ongoing battle. Picton was described by Wellington as being a  “a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived”, but respected his great ability to command. His last words were reputedly a far less coarse “Charge! Charge! Hurrah! Hurrah!” as he lead his troops to counter-attack the French.

An impressive cuirass and helmet of a French Carabinier was displayed as was the skeleton of Napoleon’s famous grey horse “Marengo”, which he rode throughout many a campaign. The Arab mount was visibly a rather small horse, judging by the skeleton. It suffered 8 wounds in battle but survived to a grand old age of 38. Captured at Waterloo, it ended its days living a deservedly quieter life in England. Astonishing to think of the dramatic events, places and people that the now sightless Arabian stallion must have once seen.

I encounted a magnificent diorama of Waterloo that I’d heard about previously. It was first developed by Captain Siborne over a decade after the battle happened making use of his own obsessively meticulous research. Financial issues as well as the immense work involved delayed its completion until 1838. Incorporating, in its original form, over 70,000 tin soldiers (5mm scale) it demonstrated an immensely detailed recreation of the landscape. Siborne reputedly fell foul of the Duke of Wellington, who apparently voiced disapproval for a perceived incorrect excessive bias towards the role that the Prussians had taken, though this is disputed amongst historians.

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Capt Siborne’s enormous and intricately detailed 1838 model of Waterloo. The Allies are to the left. Hougoumont chateau is visible centre-right and some Allied squares are visible centre-left.

Finally, I visited the Soldier Gallery which presented a wall resplendent with all manner of exotic military headdress!

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Military headdress extravaganza on display at the NAM.

Again, it was a somewhat random approach to take but ultimately looked impressive. Up on this wall, I discovered my very first example of a British hussar’s Mirliton, which was very pleasing to see. This headdress was something which I’d modelled for the first time earlier this year when painting my Swedish Morner Hussars.

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Amongst other new discoveries was the Light Company helmet pictured below from the time of the American Revolutionary War. Note the face on the crest, the red horsehair and turban. The appearance of the figure of Britannia on the front plate identifies this as being the 9th Regiment of Foot, later the Norfolk Regiment (see Rule Britannia! My report on the Norfolk Regiment Collection from 2016).

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More examples of headdress below including some very spectacular Dragoon helmet crests sandwiching a grenadier’s mitre cap.

Exhibits shown below are of the Napoleonic British Dragoon Guards and an 1834 Lancer’s Czapka of the 17th Regiment, notable for its skull and crossbones cap badge indicating ‘Death or Glory’. Both tremendously ostentatious and decorative objects.

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Left – Dragoon Guards helmet c.1812. Right – A Czapka of the 17th Lancers c 1834.

My wife and I then underwent instruction by a virtual Drill Sergeant, which involved standing on a specific area and having a video of sergeant bellow instructions at us. He offered “helpful” advice and “considered” assessments of our relative performance. I’m pleased to say that he was slightly less annoyed by my performance than by hers!

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Khaki: An 1860 Indian Army cavalry officer’s frock coat, not standard issue so probably privately purchased.

Sadly, I then had to rush off before I had a chance to experience either the Society or Insight galleries. All in all, I had an enjoyable visit and discovered some great objects. I’m not sure the ‘theme’ approach quite works for me and some of the efforts gone to engage a wider audience were sometimes just not relevant or of interest to me as a visitor with an established interest in the topic. That said, I do fully understand and accept the drive for a national museum with free entry to engage the widest possible audience and not just the history nerds like myself.

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Portait of Captain William Tyrwhitt Drake of the  Royal Horse Guards, 1815. His helmet is above the portrait (without the plume).

The NAM’s efforts to make its exhibits available online via it’s website – or by appointment to its storage facility – and to also reach out with create ‘extra-curricular’ evening talks, events and displays are to be commended (viz. a recent cultural evening of food, music and performances to launch a display on Romania’s WWI involvement).

The very well refurbished National Army Museum in particular had very helpful and friendly staff. With free entry and lots to see, it can only be recommended to those with any degree of interest in military history.

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An eerie 1915 Gas Hood – an early response to gas attacks.

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Lewis Gun, foreground.

KSLI in the Castle: Day Trip #13 (Part 3)

It seems that my visit to the Shropshire Regimental Museum was well-timed, the museum being afforded a full-page review in “Britain at War” magazine’s recent May issue! As a coda to my reports on the museum, I wanted to pay some attention to the regulars: the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. Furthermore, I conclude with some personal thoughts on the museum and the threats it has faced to its existence both past and – regrettably – present…

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Band of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. 1895 print by Richard Simkin

The castle contains the collection of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) which had its origins in two regiments that amalgamated following the 1881 reforms. These were the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment and the 85th King’s Light Infantry. The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry remained a distinct regiment until 1968.

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KLSI Officer’s Full Dress tunic, 1882-1902

There were many examples of this regiment’s past uniforms, including yet more realistic reproductions of 18th century versions on their impressive manikins. The collection included a nice example of an infantry officer’s blue patrol jacket below from the time of the 85th regiment’s service in the latter part of the 2nd Afghan War. Headgear included a blue 1860 forage cap and white and khaki Foreign Service helmets.

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Men of the 85th regiment would have been on the receiving end of the lengthy weapons below, ornate Afghan Jezails – long, intricately carved muskets belonging to tribesmen. To return fire, the British had the Martini-Henry (far left), a powerful breech-loading single shot rifle.

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The KSLI served in Egypt and the Sudan during the 1880s and I took a snap of this leather bandolier, once used by a sergeant at the Battle of Suakin, “one of the last occasions that the British soldier wore scarlet”. The group of medals below belonged to two brothers in the 1st battalion. They include the Egypt medal with “Suakin 1885” clasp and the Khedive’s Star, a campaign medal established by Egyptian Khedive Tewfik Pasha for British troops taking part in the 1882 campaign and the Mahdist Wars.

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The 53rd regiment guarded Napoleon during his final exile on the island of St.Helena. Napoleon referred to them as the red soldiers, a reference to the regiment’s combination of scarlet tunic and red facings. A nice little memento was on display, a lock of the great man’s hair, no doubt returned to England in the hands of an officer of the 53rd garrison!

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Napoleon’s hair!

I often seem to come across examples of troop shipwrecks in my visits to regimental museums, underlining just how dangerous travelling the world’s oceans was in centuries past for British soldiers. This museum had its own maritime disaster story, told in the form of a large chapel bell, the earliest ‘war trophy’ in the collection. It came from the Ville de Paris, a captured French ship-of-the-line, taken at the Battle of the Saints in 1782. The ship was carrying men of the 85th regiment when it foundered in a hurricane alongside many others in Admiral Rodney’s fleet. The bell was recovered and is on display in the museum.

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In common with other regular infantry regiments, the Shropshire regulars served in an astonishing number of theatres around the globe: in the Sikh Wars, in India and the North West Frontier, in South Africa, Egypt and the Sudan, Hong Kong, the Iberian Peninsular, Holland, Malta and Gibraltar, the West Indies and North America, etc. In the example of the latter, the 85th fought in the American War of Independence and in the War of 1812. It captured the Colour of the 1st Harford Light Dragoons (of Maryland) captured at the Battle of Blandensburg. This remarkable object was on display in surprisingly good condition, and a postcard duly purchased from the shop.

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Colour of Maryland’s 1st Harford Light Dragoons

With that brief exposition on the KSLI collection, I wanted to end with some comments about the museum itself. The two previous posts on the museum’s collection  can be found below:


From terrorist bombs to endless austerity: Some final thoughts on the Shropshire Regimental Museum:

This was a first-rate regimental museum. One of the aspects of it that I appreciated the most was its emphasis on letting the exhibits and artefacts assume the central importance they deserve. The large glass cases may seem a rather traditional approach to some contemporary museum curators yet with so much information so readily available on-line, it is in museum’s exhibits where we acquire something unique; an up-close personal assessment of actual, real artefacts where even the apparently less significant can spark off a new interest or ignite the imagination.

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Flags of the Loyal Morfe Volunteers, an infantry unit of the Napoleonic era which had disbanded by the time of the war’s conclusion

The Shropshire museum’s display cases were full – never cluttered – with artwork, uniforms and objects. Excellently made manikins gave the visitor an opportunity to take in the sight of full uniforms. Being the sole occupant of the castle allowed the museum to appropriately fill the entire space and allowed the visitor to fully immerse themselves in the museum and understand the subject. Too often today, regimental ‘collections’ are being forced to share building space, shunted off into a side-room and left to compete for the confused attention of the more casual visitor already exposed in the same visit to radically different topics in other collections.

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On 25th August 1992, three IRA bombs were planted in Shrewsbury, one of which was placed at Shrewsbury Castle, where the Regimental Museum had been based since 1985. Nobody was killed, thankfully, but the fire which ripped through the museum destroyed many military treasures and it was said many of the relics involved were irreplaceable.

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Damage to the museum in 1992 (Photo – Shropshire Star)

It took three years to repair the damage before re-opening in 1995. Though mercifully no lives were lost, it had a considerable impact on the collection. To my dismay, it appears that as much as 60% of the collections’ earliest material was destroyed. However, like the motto of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry themselves, Aucto Splendore Resurgo (‘I rise again in greater splendour’), the Museum was resurrected to present the wonderful displays we see today. In recent years, the relentless barbarism of public spending cuts has threatened to do what terrorist bombs could not – close the Shropshire Regimental Museum for good. Thank goodness that, for now, it remains open to the public for a very modest £4 entrance fee.

Suburban Militarism urges all those with an interest in history to visit the museum and support its continued existence in our cultural and social landscape. Shropshire Regimental Museum is independent, relying greatly on public support and therefore welcomes donations, however small. You can donate online to the museum here.

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Citizen Soldiers of Salop: Day Trip #13 (Part 2 – Volunteers and Militia)

Continuing my report on the Shropshire Regimental Museum, in this second part I’ll be now looking at the local Rifle Volunteers, the Shropshire Volunteer Artillery and the Shropshire Militia.

Most of the artefacts relating to these local military units of Shropshire were based in the imposing Great Hall of the castle.


The Rifle Volunteers:

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“The Rifle Contest, Wimbledon, 1864”. Lithograph after A. Hunt.

One of the most pleasing finds was the above print of a Rifle Volunteer competition in the 1860s. Regular visitors to Suburban Militarism may recall that last year I embarked on a project to model four separate Victorian Rifle Volunteer Corps (the Cheshire Greys, the Robin Hood Rifles, the 3rd London Rifle Volunteers and the Post Office Rifles). During this time, one of the things I researched was what a volunteer rifle range might look like. The above print (click here for a larger image) of Wimbledon Common illustrates many of the features I was speculating about at the time, including:

  • The rifle butts – seen in the distance with markers, backstops and a flag flying to indicate direction and warn of the range being in use. The men engaged in shooting appear to screened off, presumably to limit accusations of being distracted!
  • A vibrant social scene where differently uniformed corps would intermingle (note the different kepis, forage caps, kilts and at least one busby). The competition is well attended with many ladies and children being eagerly entertained by the rifle volunteers.
  • A nice vignette of a successful rifleman being carried aloft by jubilant comrades after his marksmanship has won his corps glory.

For those taking part in such competitions, success could earn the eternal gratitude of one’s officer and comrades, not to say acquire a little local celebrity. So it was for Sergeant Roberts of the 12th (Wem) Rifle Volunteer Corps whose performance at said Wimbledon Common earned him the epithet “The Champion Shot of England”! It also engendered this effusive ‘illuminated address’ by his grateful Captain and colleagues:

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“This is indeed a proud day for your comrades in the Corps…”

A little further on in the museum, I found an example of what might lie in store for those riflemen who did not pay sufficient “strict attention to drill and rifle practice” with as much diligence as Sgt. Roberts – namely, a wooden spoon! This was “probably a booby prize for the worst shot” in the 2nd Shropshire Rifle Volunteers…

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Another of the museum’s fine manikin displays portrayed two local volunteer troops of the Victorian era; specifically men from the two Volunteer Battalions of the Shropshire Regiment. The 2nd Volunteer Battalion wore a grey uniform with black crossbelts and facings. His marksman’s badge of crossed rifles can be seen above his left cuff. His weapon is a Snider-Enfield.

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Colour Sergeant, 2nd Volunteer Batt. KSLI, c.1890.

The 1st Volunteer Battalion was represented by its preceding formation, the 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps. The uniform dates from the 1880s, around the time of the Childers Reforms which first linked the Rifle Volunteer Corps more closely with the county infantry regiments. The 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps wore scarlet tunics and white facings, therefore looking much like the regulars.

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Officer, 1st Shropshire Rifle Volunteer Corps, c.1880s

It was great to see county volunteer forces so carefully and skilfully depicted in this display by the Shropshire Regimental Museum. Rifle Volunteers may not have seen any active service prior to the Anglo-Boer War, but they were a significant part of the military and social history of Shropshire.

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Two shakos belonging to Rifle Volunteers from the 1860s.

In the display below of the local Administrative Battalions, the ‘drab’ dress of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion was complemented by dark green braid and black facings and crossbelts. The 1860s shako features a hunting horn badge with the number 48 (being the order of precedence for the Shropshire Rifle Volunteers). Post-1880, both Volunteer Battalions have adopted the dark green Full-Dress helmets. The other ranks uniform to the left is awash with medals, proficiency stars, etc.

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Like the yeomanry, bandsmen would have been a part of self-respective Rifle Volunteer Corps. I spotted this large drum belonging to the second corps below:

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Drum of the Second Shropshire Rifle Volunteers


The Shropshire Militia:

The national Militia force expanded during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars but, by the time of their conclusion, a single regiment of Shropshire Militia existed. The established system of maintaining the Militia by local ballot was unpopular, poorly enforced and numbers were in decline.

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Militia cap badges, 1870 forage cap and a “tobacco jar” presented to the 54th Shropshire Regiment Militia. Presumably, the officers had exclusive use of this…

In 1852, service in the Militia became voluntary – closer to the TA of today. The attraction of experiencing army life and wearing the smart uniform must have been attractive to many. Particularly so, as the uniform was very similar to the regulars of the time.

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Militia officer’s 1855-68 pattern tunic and 1869-78 pattern shako. Facings are green.

In 1881, as part of sweeping reforms, the Shropshire Militia came under the newly established King’s Shropshire Light Infantry regiment and was designated the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, K.S.L.I. At the same time, control of the Militia was taken from the Lord Lieutenant and appointments and training came under the War Office instead.


The Shropshire Artillery Volunteer Corps

To support the large number of  Rifle Volunteer Corps being established in 1860, the importance of mounted infantry and artillery formations to support them was recognised. This wasn’t always easy to achieve as horses and cannons are more complex and expensive formations to maintain. Nevertheless, in Shropshire, the 9th (Shrewsbury) Rifle Volunteer Corps was converted to the Shropshire Artillery Volunteers in July 1860. Initially, there were a formation of ‘heavy artillery’ and performed exercises at Long Mynd, an area of heath and moor in the Shropshire Hills. The site of the battery and magazine is still apparently identifiable even today.

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The Shropshire Artillery Volunteers with their 32 pounder guns at Long Mynd. In the foreground, civilians (men, women and a child) have come to watch proceedings.

The museum had a number of objects relating to this formation including this Full-Dress pouch:

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Richly embroidered 1st SAV Officer’s Full Dress pouch

The Full-Dress uniform of a sergeant of the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery could be seen in its entirety (below). The Shropshire RHA was formed in 1908 as a consequence of the formation of the new Territorial Force. They were one of only six volunteer corps to be designated as being prestigious Horse Artillery.

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Below is a portrait held in the museum of the first commander of the Shropshire Artillery Volunteers, Colonel William Field, wearing a fur busby with white plume. In the distant background can be just about seen some gun limbers and horses. The town of Shrewsbury is in the distance. His fine grey charger also featured in the museum. Following its demise, the beloved animal had its hoof converted into an inkwell, now in display!

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1864 portrait of Col. Field of the 1st Shropshire Administrative Brigade, Volunteer Artillery beside his favourite grey charger.

To encourage proficiency, prizes were awarded to provide an incentive, a common enough concept for volunteer forces. For the SAV, the winning battery each year would take the ”Skill at Arms’ trophy shown below. An image of an artillery team in action can be seen embossed on the front.

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The Full-Dress headgear of the 1st Shropshire Artillery Volunteers in the 19th century was this shako. Note the metal ball instead of a spike at the top the helmet, and also the artillery piece appearing under the Royal Coat of Arms.

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1st Shropshire Artillery Volunteers shako

Complimenting last year’s purchase of the book “Riflemen, Form!” on the Victorian Rifle Volunteer movement, I bought a copy of “A History of the Shropshire Artillery Volunteer Corps”, a newly published and detailed account by Derek Harrison, available in the museum shop online. Perfect bed-time reading for me there!

A (thankfully) short, final post on this exhaustive report to come, in which I include some personal thoughts about the museum.

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Shropshire Regimental Museum: Day Trip #13 (Part One – The Yeomanry)

Last week, on a gloriously sunny day, I finally fulfilled a long-held desire to visit the Shropshire Regimental Museum.

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Shropshire Military Museum in Shrewsbury Castle

It is picturesquely based in Shrewsbury’s castle and houses collections relating to the following:

  • The 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment
  • The 85th King’s Light Infantry
  • The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI)
  • The Shropshire Yeomanry
  • The Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery
  • The local Militia, Volunteers and Territorial units
  • The Lords Lieutenant of Shropshire collection

The extensive collection occupies virtually the entire castle, including its impressive Great Hall.

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The Great Hall, Shrewsbury Regimental Museum

In the first part of my review, I’m taking a look at the displays on the local yeomanry regiments of Shropshire. My copy of the “Blandford Encyclopaedia of Cavalry Uniforms” contains three illustrations of yeomanry regiments in Shropshire by Jack Kassin-Scott, including this illustration of an 1892 mounted trooper.

In comparison, the extent of the gold braid worn by the officer becomes evident. The county of Shropshire was quick to respond to the threat of French invasion during the Revolutionary Wars and raised no less than 11 individual Yeomanry Cavalry troops in the 1790s! Starting with the Market Drayton Troop in early 1795, others localities soon followed suit including Wellington, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Pimhill, etc. By the time of the war’s cessation in 1815, only three remained in service: the Shrewsbury Yeomanry Cavalry; the South Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry; and the North Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry.

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Coatee of Captain Sir Baldwyn Leighton, Shrewsbury Yeomanry Cavalry, c. 1823-28

By 1828, these three regiments were reduced further into two as the South Shropshire and Shrewsbury Regiments were amalgamated into the single South Salopian Yeomanry Cavalry. In response, the North Shropshire regiment renamed itself to become the North Salopian Yeomanry Cavalry.  Eventually, these two would also merge in 1872, becoming simply the Shropshire Yeomanry. This continuity of service entitled it to be 6th in the Yeomanry order of precedence.

Around the museum were pleasing artworks depicting the local yeomanry force including the two above, both by unknown artists. The oil painting on the left is of Colonel William Cludde of the early Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry, 1795. Middle: Yeomanry Officer in Full Dress, 1910 by W.H. Taylor. To the right is a nice print depicting officers of the South Salopian Yeomanry, 1846. A coloured aquatint after Henry Martens.

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Gleaming Shropshire Yeomanry dragoon helmets from the late 19th – early 20th century period.

On entering the museum, I was first guided upstairs by staff to a small vestibule which housed some excellent yeomanry helmets and guidons. The regimental colours included examples of some of the ephemeral early volunteer cavalry such as the Apley Troop of the Brimstree Loyal Legion which lasted from 1799 to 1802.

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Guidon of the Brimstree Loyal Legion, Apley Troop, 1799. (Photo courtesy of This Reilluminated School of Mars blog)

I was delighted to see my first post-Waterloo era Royal Horse Guards helmet with its outrageous and enormous black woollen crest. It was displayed in order to demonstrate how it was the model for the North Shropshire Yeomanry’s own dragoon helmet.

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Window glare obscures much but no all of the astonishing Royal Horse Guards helmet (left) with a North Shropshire Yeomanry helmet (right).

A side view of the regiment’s Full-Dress “Roman pattern” helmet (1817-1846) can be seen below. This pattern helmet was used by both the North and South Shropshire Yeomanry.

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Also in this display was (below) a South Salopian Yeomanry Full-Dress officer’s helmet which features a black plume, something that was replaced with the red/white plume of the North Salopian Yeomanry was adopted upon amalgamation.

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Alongside that was a highly unusual black leather dragoon helmet used by the North Salopian Yeomanry. It too was replaced by the more usual metal helmet upon amalgamation in 1872.

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Proceeding on to the Great Hall, my attention was soon drawn to the sight of some extravagant shakos in a glass case:

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Two shakos owned by South Shropshire/Salopian officers. The glass reflection obscures the extravagant black feather plume (left)

These extravagant shakos were ‘possibly used’ by officers of the South Shropshire and South Salopian Yeomanry. No evidence existed for either regiment adopting them so I can only speculate that these no-doubt wealthy officers were trialling fancy new headgear simply because they liked them!

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Rear view of the shakos, gold epaulettes and forage caps (1860s).

The museum was particularly strong in its collection of old Yeomanry uniforms. Their use of manikins was also really effective, I thought, as can be seen in the fine display below of an officer of the North Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry in the mid-19th century. It’s a classic heavy dragoon style uniform and the wonderfully ornate metal helmet at his feet.

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A closer view of that style of helmet, alongside another example of the aforementioned unique black leather helmet was afforded in another cabinet, seen below:

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The above two North Shropshire 19th century dragoon helmets are amongst the finest examples I’ve seen. The black helmet dates from 1816-36 and the one on the right from 1854-72. The detailed sunburst helmet plates look dramatic against the black leather or white metal and the lion’s face appearing over the crest framed by the red plume is glorious.

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Above is an example of a Shrewsbury Yeomanry officer’s helmet and coatee from the period 1817-30. The helmet has a notably different metal crest to the North Shropshire version above. I’m unsure who the metal figure is intended to depict but the sculpted face with wide open mouth appears menacing enough! The black helmet this time is metal (not leather) and appears to have been subject to japanning. It would have had a bearskin crest, now absent.

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Yeomanry uniforms in transition. Left and middle respectively: North and South Shropshire Yeomanry tunics. Right: the amalgamated Shropshire Yeomanry tunic, interestingly a lancer pattern featuring a red plastron. A trumpeter’s helmet is identifiable by a red plume.

The amalgamation of the North and South Salopian Yeomanry regiments in 1872 required a new uniform to be designed for it. Some compromise was needed therefore to combine elements of both regiment’s uniforms into a new version. The subsequent uniform featured a dark blue tunic with scarlet facings, red piping and gold lacing (as can be seen on the officer below). Leg wear was dark blue with a red stripe (or seemingly gold for officers). The helmet’s gilt ornamentation was inspired by the South Salopian regiment, while the red and white plume imitated that of its Northern cousin.

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Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry Uniform, c.1882.

This new uniform owed something to the uniform of the Royal Horse Guards which, as we have seen, also inspired the dragoon helmet adopted soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

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Early officer’s ornate epaulettes c.1814. Top are brass metal labels which were fitted to the side of a Tarleton helmet – “1st REGt SHROPSHIRE” and “YEO. CAVALRY”.

I’ve said it before, I’m always keen to see evidence of mounted bands and musicians and I was particularly pleased to discover both of the Shropshire Yeomanry’s drum banners, placed high up on the castle wall.

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The regiment’s drum banners would have surrounded the steel kettle drums carried by a drum horse. No sign of the kettle drums, unfortunately, but it was interesting to see how the banner compared to its depiction in the cigarette card set by John Player and Sons that I own.

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As you can see, in comparison with my (admittedly poor quality) photo it looks quite different, featuring a cypher instead of the three ‘loggerheads’ of the Shropshire coat of arms. Furthermore, the scroll underneath reads “Shropshire-Yeomanry-Cavalry” from left to right, and does not have the central word as being ‘Shropshire’. In the 1920s, postcard manufacturer Gale & Polden produced a large poster of Yeomanry drum banners. Their illustration of the Shropshire Yeomanry’s banner agrees with the Player’s illustration showing the loggerheads.

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Gale & Polden’s drum banner

R.G. Harris’ “Yeomanry Drum Banners and Mounted Bands” (#14 in the Ogilby Trust Yeomanry Series) informs me that the wife of the CO, Colonel Wingfield, presented these banners to the regiment on 8th May 1885. They differ slightly in size to each other. There are ‘no known pictures or photographs of the band’, sadly. Furthermore, the versions depicted in the Player’s series and the Gale & Polden poster have never been traced or verified, so may well have simply been erroneous.

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Shropshire Yeomanry riding through the streets of Shrewsbury c.1905

The aforementioned Colonel Wingfield’s name also appeared on an invitation to an event hosted by the Shropshire Yeomanry in 1886. It reports that the regimental band will be ‘in attendance’. This card was nicely illustrated with two yeomen; one in Full Dress with sword drawn and the other wearing a stable jacket, with a carbine and an Other Ranks pill box cap. This invitation I was pleased to see reproduced in the museum shop in the form of a postcard (below):

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The Imperial Yeomanry’s experience in the Anglo-Boer War marked the Yeomanry force’s first experience of foreign warfare. Stripped of their ostentatious finery worn in the previous century, they learned some valuable lessons about modern warfare ahead of the Great War. Artefacts from their time in South Africa were many including this slouch hat:

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…and this photograph below of the yeomen, prior to embarkation to South Africa in 1900.

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13th (Shropshire) Company, 5th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry 2nd Feb 1900 at Shrewsbury Bowling Club prior to departure for the Boer War.

For the second part of my review of the Shropshire Regimental Museum, I’ll be taking a look at some of the other exhibits.

Finally, I end with two more illustrations of Shropshire’s yeomanry from my Blandford Book by Jack Cassin-Scott:

  • (left) a trooper of the Shropshire Provisional Cavalry, c.1794;
  • (right) South Salopian Yeomanry officer, c.1842.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Yeomanry Collection: Day Trip #11

Finding myself in Norfolk for a couple of day’s holiday, I took the opportunity to visit the Muckleburgh Collection near Weybourne. Situated right on the north Norfolk coastline, it is the site of a former military camp dedicated to training anti-aircraft personnel. This privately owned museum today houses many impressive exhibits of 20th century artillery, armoured vehicles, heavy tanks and missiles, etc.

But it also contains the largest collection of exhibits from the Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry and, eschewing much of the modern military hardware on display, it was this collection that (unsurprisingly) attracted Suburban Militarism for a brief visit.

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Yeomanry guidons mounted up on the wall. Left is a fairly ancient guidon of the Yarmouth Troop of Yeomanry.

In preparation for the visit, I referred to two books in my possession; Volume 12 of the “Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force” series on the Norfolk Yeomanry, and the excellently written 2012 book “The Loyal Suffolk Hussars” by Margaret Thomas and Nick Sign.

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“The Loyal Suffolk Hussars at the Centenary Review, Angel Hill, Bury St. Edmunds, 1893.” A large canvas already familiar to me as featuring on the dust jacket to a book I’d been reading.

The gallery was a wealth of information and exhibits. It was unfortunate, however, that many of them were grouped behind a large glass partition in a separate area. The lighting was good however and one had to admire at a slightly greater distance than this military history nerd would have liked.

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Exhibits (behind glass partition) relating to the Suffolk and Norfolk Yeomanry (and other local volunteer units)

The Norfolk Yeomanry had an intermittent history, coming in and out of existence a number of times since its establishment. Forming and reforming thereafter in various guises until finally disbanding in 1867. It was not until after the Boer War in 1902 that the Norfolk Yeomanry was again re-raised as the King’s Own Royal Regiment. This was thanks in no small part to the keen interest and patronage of His Majesty King Edward the VII, the regiment’s own honorary colonel.

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Loyal Suffolk Hussars officer’s shabraque with Field Service caps of the Norfolk (yellow) and Suffolk Militia Artillery.

Such influence enabled it to resist the encroachment of khaki and also saw it involved in a number of prestigious royal escort duties. This re-raised KORR had a unique and attractive full dress uniform which included this glorious black-japanned helmet with a warm yellow falling plume, an ordinary ranks helmet that I found on display. Within the partitioned area, I later spied an officer’s version of this helmet with a central star inside the laurel wreath. To the left of the photo below can just be seen some yellow cord aiguilettes, possibly used by a bandsmen of A Troop.

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The distinctive yellow facings could be seen on displayed mess jackets and also on an unusual lancer-style coat with this stark yellow plastron with Full Dress pouch (left). This unusual Levee Order tunic featured laced facings was worn between 1903-1914. The mess jacket on the right partially conceals an intricately ornamented cream mess vest underneath.

The Norfolk Yeomanry for a short time (1901-1904) switched to this Colonial Pattern helmet with a brass spike. Ordinary ranks had a plain drab pagri wrapped around the helmet, while officers were distinguished by a blue version as seen in the helmet I discovered below.

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Unlike their northern brethren, the Suffolk Yeomanry managed to more or less maintain a constant presence since its inception, in part relying on recruiting additional troops from neighbouring counties whose yeomanry had disbanded, such as Norfolk. By 1855, the title of “The Loyal Suffolk Yeomanry” was in use, with the adopted uniform being of a rifle green hussar style uniform to match (see below). This later became navy blue with red facings, a colour which would also appear on their caps.

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Suffolk Yeomanry jacket (officer)

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Examples of their busbies (red bags and white plumes) were displayed, together with officer’s epaulettes and undress headgear such as the red coloured pillbox and field service caps. The yellow cap seen below with the GviiR cypher is of the Norfolk Yeomanry.

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Some of the most interesting helmets on display were the behind glass partition. These included a Tarleton in fine condition from the green-coated Norfolk Rangers (c.1789), a helmet of the Swaffam Troop missing its crest and badge (c.1798), an officer’s imposing bicorne hat, and three fine Suffolk Yeomanry Cavalry helmets from around 1815 (centre left photo).

Always a pleasure to discover interesting artworks and images on the walls of a collection, aside from the large canvas already mentioned, some others that caught my eye included these below.

  • Left: An oil painting of the Suffolk Artillery Brigade Militia parading with their artillery pieces just visible lined up in the background.
  • Right: A fine watercolour of the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Norfolk Yeomanry) in camp around the turn of the last century.

Also, these interesting images of:

  • Norfolk Volunteer Artillery mounted on a limber, photographed on Mousehold heath, 1895.
  • A very old pencil sketch of the ‘favourite charger of Major Edgar’ (Colonel of the Suffolk Yeomanry), found in a local market.

A number of accoutrements caught my eye including a fine brass pouch belt buckle of Norfolk’s Clackclose Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry (1796). Some of the exhibit labels confused me though; the labels for the Norfolk Yeomanry and the 3rd Norfolk Rifle Volunteer Corps belt buckles below appear to have been mixed up!

A visit to a yeomanry collection is incomplete without seeing some ornate sabretaches and this collection had plenty to view. The red Loyal Suffolk Hussars sabretache developed to include a reference to being the Duke of York’s Own. Other examples included the Suffolk Borderers (bottom left) and the Norfolk Light Horse (centre bottom) which were a mounted corps developed out of the Rifle Volunteer movement in 1860 and which lasted until 1867.

Finally, a particular interest of mine of late is the colourful and decorative yeomanry bands and it was pleasing to see the Norfolk Yeomanry’s own represented in the form of yellow cord aiguilettes, two drum banners and a pair of gilt embossed kettledrums. Note the portrait of an Norfolk Yeomanry officer wearing that Levee Order dress uniform mentioned earlier (left).

On a very final note, your reporter was delighted to find in the collection a whole separate room of model soldiers, more on this perhaps in another post…

Militia, Volunteers and Kettledrums (Suburban Militarism Day Trip #9 Part 3)

To your (no doubt) relief, this is my final instalment on my visit to the Somerset Military Museum. In the first two posts, I showcased exhibits relating to the regular infantry (Somersetshire Light Infantry) and also to the mounted volunteer forces of the county (North Somerset and West Somerset Yeomanry Cavalry). In this third post, I’m taking a look at the county’s Rifle Volunteers and Militia, and also focusing on that mainstay of any military band – drums!

Firstly, below is a tunic featuring a cross-belt from the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Somersetshire Light Infantry from the period 1881-1902. This was a period when Britain’s Rifle Volunteers were first reorganised to be formally attached to their associated county’s line infantry regiments.

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Major’s tunic, 2nd Somersetshire LI. c.1881-1902

Rifle volunteers were a creation with origins going back to 1859, at a time when Britain was alarmed by the growing threat of Napoleon III’s France. These Rifle Volunteer regiments commonly adopted muted uniform colours such as dark green or grey, in the fashion of other rifle specialists (such as Britain’s own Rifle Brigade or King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Following the Childers Reforms of 1881, these Rifle Volunteers became formally attached to line regiments as numbered volunteer battalions. Hence the original Somerset Rifle Volunteer Corps (formed in 1859) became the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Somersetshire Light Infantry in 1881. They retained their distinctive grey uniform for some years to come, it seems. It has been said of the reforms that many in the regular army were pleased when such ‘amateurs’ didn’t readily adopt scarlet, confirming them as being distinct from the ‘proper’ professionals!

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  • Above: Officer’s coatee, North Somerset Local Militia Light Company c.1808-16.

The genesis of the formation of the militia was Anglo-Saxon and it existed in various forms throughout the centuries. In response to the Napoleonic emergency, seven Somerset local militia regiments were raised early in the 19th century from pre-existing volunteer units, eventually culminating in the establishment of the 1st Somerset Militia. Militia were generally dressed in a manner similar to other regular infantry line regiments.

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The Prince Albert’s (Somersetshire Light Infantry) c.1908 by Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927)

In 1908, the Haldane Reforms saw existing reserve forces, such as the militia and yeomanry, reorganised once more. The yeomanry and rifle volunteers became part of the new “Territorial Force”, whilst the militia were formed into the “Special Reserve”. Great military artist Richard Caton Woodville, himself a member of the Berkshire Yeomanry, was commissioned in 1908 to produce a series of portraits depicting this new Territorial Force, including his painting of the above Somersetshire Light Infantry battalion.

Lots of splendid examples of volunteer and militia headdress were on show in the museum, including some examples below:

  • Below Left – Volunteer Battalion, Somersetshire Light Infantry officer’s forage cap c.1883-1901
  • Below Right – 2nd Administrative Battalion, Somerset Rifle Volunteers, Home Service pattern helmet, c. 1876-1901.

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Also below;

  • Below Left – 3rd Administrative Battalion, Somerset Rifle Volunteers, Pill-box forage cap, c.1860-80
  • Below Right – 13th (Frome) Rifle Volunteer Corps, Shako, c. 1860-70. Note the green colours.

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And there were also some militia headdress demonstrating various changing styles of shako worn throughout the 19th Century;

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Various headdress of the Somersetshire Militia.

Finally, concluding the report of the Somerset Military museum, I’d like to showcase some war drums! My photographs below exhibit some of their fine drums on display which included (clockwise from left);

  • Firstly, a drum formerly used on campaign by the 1st Battalion Somerset LI in the 1st Anglo-Afghan War, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and in South Africa! It’s condition can be compared with the more pristine East Somerset militia’s drum. The 1st battalion’s drum can perhaps, given its astonishing history, be readily forgiven for being a little more faded and worn.
  • An East Somerset Local Militia drum, c.1808. Inscribed with the name of the regiment and a George III cypher.
  • A West Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum, c.1854. A beautiful object, its worn and fading paintwork tells of how it was presented to the WSYC by the Hon. Col. Portman.
  • A North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum, c.1889. Bearing the crest of this yeomanry regiment, it would have been one of a pair carried over the sides of a strong horse.

Regarding that North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrum in the photo above (bottom right), my copy of Barlow and Smith’s “The Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force” series on the North Somerset Yeomanry reveals an 1889 photograph of a kettledrummer with his  two instruments atop a large grey drum horse.

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North Somerset Yeomanry kettledrums and drum horse, c.1889.

Kettledrums were often carried with a regimental banner placed over them. However, in the photograph no drum banners are shown and the authors can find no evidence that they were ever carried by the regiment, though certainly it seems that the West Somerset Yeomanry did, as can be seen shown in the cigarette card below issued by Players.

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Another photograph in the book shows the North Somerset Yeomanry Regimental Band posed together with their instruments, including the two kettledrums, and dated 1908. Presumably, the kettledrum in the museum is one of these depicted here. The band would have been dressed similarly to the rest of the regiment; blue forage cap with white band, blue serge coats, white collars and blue overalls with double white stripes.

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The kettledrums on display with the North Somerset Yeomanry Regimental Band, c.1908,

And with all that history now ‘drummed’ into you, I’ll sign off until next time!

Marvin.